“And while I was there I saw a man dying next to me, and he was crying out for his daughter. She did not come. So it wasn’t just about the experience of what happened to me but also about being there — going under anesthesia and not knowing what was going to be missing when you woke up. Not knowing what to expect on the other side.”1
Bestial Burden is the sound of pain.
In 2014, Margaret Chardiet almost died. Several days before the start of her first European tour, she became suddenly ill and underwent extensive surgery that removed a twelve centimeter cyst and an organ from her body, leaving her bedridden for three weeks. There was no warning for her sickness.2 Bestial Burden describes her incalculable terror at the realization that one day she will die, and that moment is almost wholly disconnected from her mind’s ability to cognize the concept of instantaneous nonexistence.
This six track, twenty-eight minute release starts off with “Vacuum,” a ninety second short song (the length of which in no way detracts from its power) that layers recordings of Chardiet’s raspy breaths. When one undergoes extensive surgery, the very act of respiration may be painful as well as incredibly difficult – often necessitating the use of breathing tubes and other artificial apparati. “Vacuum” paints Chardiet’s disgust at taking such an action for granted.
It pairs well with “Primitive Struggle,” another short (two minutes) track that emphasizes Chardiet’s hacking cough that – much like “Vacuum” – represents the painful, wrenching terror of one’s body failing. But whereas “Vacuum” featured breathing that was relatively without struggle, “Primitive Struggle” depicts the act in all its horrific pain that is unimaginable except to those who have experienced the state of dread that occurs when breathing no longer comes with the ease it once did.
Bestial Burden is visceral – as literally depicted by the viscera displayed on its album artwork. Chardiet is not tearing apart her body; she is revealing it. She is revealing the gangrene, the sepsis, the organs that failed her, and the body that dares to destroy itself without acknowledging its creator. There’s a subtle implication of body dysmorphia, at which Chardiet less-subtly depicted on the cover of previous album Abandon, which displayed her pubic region covered in maggots.3 It sharply contrasts to the colorful red blood and guts in which grisly album art typically revels; unlike those albums, Bestial Burden is not attempting to shock soccer moms and emasculated suburban dads, but to appeal to the primeval parts of human psyche that instinctively recoils when presented with its ugly mortality.
Speaking of instinct, “Intent or Instinct” features a scream entirely not unlike the ear-splitting shrieks of black metal bands; but where black metal walks a thin line between brilliancy and farce, Chardiet is nowhere near self-parody. This is a deadly serious work of music, with tribal screeching and insane yells that push the boundaries of listenability in a way that is not only wonderful as a concept, but necessary to demonstrate the pain within her.
Chardiet chronicles the rapacious out-of-body experience that is death, a non-consensual rip from existence, for which one may never fully prepare. This is the burden of being nothing more than a hunk of meat whose parts may fail without notice and mind need not understand what is happening – a bestial burden, indeed.
1. Vacuum – (1:31) – ★★★★☆
2. Intent or Instinct – (8:28) – ★★★★★
3. Body Betrays Itself – (5:04) – ★★★★★
4. Primitive Struggle – (2:09) – ★★★★★4
5. Autoimmune – (4:43) – ★★★★☆
6. Bestial Burden – (7:04) – ★★★★☆
[UPDATE 9 March 2016: changed overall rating from four-and-a-half stars to four stars.]
1Stosuy, Brandon. “Update: Pharmakon.” Pitchfork. August 15, 2014. Accessed February 25, 2016. http://pitchfork.com/features/update/9481-pharmakon/.
3… which you can see at: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0263/1575/products/sbr099-pharmakon-abandon_03bf9658-f530-4ca6-aa28-5f3351e45a16_grande.jpeg?v=1398719972
4Not for listenability, but because it’s so damn good at its job.
5The one issue I have with this album that bumped its rating down a half star is its length. At twenty-nine minutes, its shortness is palpable, and I have the feeling that there is way more material to be used than was realized here. Perhaps Chardiet is saving it for the next release; I look forward to it.